Shaun Derry: The Big Interview

Shaun Derry made 55 apperances and scored one goal for Pompey in an eventful three-year Blues stay, which saw him handed the captain's armband by Graham Rix
Shaun Derry made 55 apperances and scored one goal for Pompey in an eventful three-year Blues stay, which saw him handed the captain's armband by Graham Rix
Pompey's goalscorer Matt Clarke. Picture: Joe Pepler

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With Pompey fighting an all-too familiar relegation battle, it was an off-field war of words more than 200 miles north of Fratton Park that proved pivotal to the Blues’ subsequent survival.

March 11, 2000 was the date when Tony Pulis’ under-pressure side climbed out of the first-division relegation zone with a hard-fought 2-1 home win over Nottingham Forest.

It was also the day Shaun Derry’s unexpected move to the south coast gathered momentum, following a dressing-room dressing down from Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock.

With the two equally outspoken and stubborn characters finding something to squabble over after a 3-2 win at Port Vale, the Blades’ loss was Pompey’s gain.

The fallout was spectacular, with Derry shown the Bramall Lane exit door as the grateful Blues secured the services of a future fans’ favourite and skipper for £300,000.

And the defensive midfielder’s impact was felt immediately when he played his part in a four-game winning sequence that all-but confirmed Pompey’s safety.

A goal in a home-debut win against West Bromwich Albion (which proved to be Derry’s only Blues strike) was a fine way to curry favour with the Fratton faithful.

‘It happened really quickly,’ said Derry.

‘I remember playing for Sheffield United on the Saturday and let’s just say me and Neil Warnock had a few choice words after the game.

‘I was quickly sold to Portsmouth on the Tuesday morning!

‘We were both pretty opinionated and I think Neil felt it was best that I perhaps went a different way.

‘I remember my first Pompey goal – it was my only goal and came against West Brom at home in a crucial victory.

‘A collector’s item would be seeing me over the halfway line, let alone scoring goals!

‘But it was a great evening – a Tuesday night and I remember it really well because my dad was at the game.

‘It was the first time he came to watch me at Pompey. He missed my first game at Crewe, which we won (3-1) and then obviously the second game was West Brom.

‘It was a really important victory for us because we needed to get a few wins under our belt to stay out of the bottom three in the league.’

For Derry, the connection with the Blues’ renowned fanatical support was immediate as he settled quickly into life on the south coast.

With boss Pulis arriving only two months previously at PO4, the brief of ensuring survival was duly achieved – with Derry one of a few key signings made by the new Blues boss.

‘Instantly, I felt a connection with the Pompey fans,’ said Derry.

‘That first game away at Crewe I couldn’t quite believe it. It was fantastic backing.

‘And at Fratton Park, whether it was a full house or not it was always rocking – I think we had 12-13,000 through the gates but the atmosphere was special.

‘When I arrived, Justin Edinburgh, Ceri Hughes and Darren Moore had all arrived before me, so Tony Pulis had set his stall out to get new players in and thankfully we beat the drop.’

While Pulis assembled a side to beat the drop, he was not able to lift the Blues into the upper echelons and was sacked in October 2000 – after just 10 months in the role.

A familar tale of relegation-fighting woe ensued with player-manager Steve Claridge the next to get the bullet in the Blues dugout.

Graham Rix took over as troubled Pompey’s third manager of the season.

But heading into a final-day decider at home to Barnsley, Derry was nowhere to be seen – ruled out with a back injury.

Watching on from the stands, he breathed a huge sigh of relief as a 3-0 win confirmed safety.

Third-time lucky then was the hope for both Pompey and Derry come the start of the 2001-02 season but things were to get worse before they got better.

‘I had bad injuries at bad times at Pompey,’ said Derry.

‘I missed the end of the season (2000-01) after fracturing my back and then in my first game back I tore my hamstring. I tore it off the bone.

‘I missed a lot of football which coincided with changes in management as well, so it wasn’t a very good time for me personally.’

Derry made a long awaited-return to first-team action in January 2002 but two months later was on to manager number four at Fratton Park.

For Derry, it was particularly hard to see Rix depart the hot seat, not least because he had handed him the captain’s armband in a stellar team of individual talent.

‘Graham was an unbelievable guy first and foremost – a really nice man,’ said Derry.

‘To be made skipper at such a young age by him was a fantastic individual accolade, I am just sorry I didn’t play more games.

‘An outstanding coach, he was loved by the players but unfortunately we just didn’t get the results we required for him to stick around.

‘You only have to look at the likes of Robert Prosinecki and Peter Crouch to know we had some really good players there.

‘But on the pitch that season, it just didn’t happen for us.

‘We just couldn’t get the blend right which was a shame really because we had all of the talent.’

Harry Redknapp’s March 2002 arrival sparked an upturn in the club’s fortunes but also the end of Derry’s eventful stay on the south coast.

A summer of rebuilding saw a new-look Blues side storm to the Premier League as first division title winners but Derry, who played 55 times for Pompey, had departed for Crystal Palace in the summer – with plenty to ponder but no regrets.

He said: ‘When Crystal Palace came calling I thought it was a really good opportunity – I had always wanted to play in London.

‘I knew Harry was going to be bringing in his players and got the impression I would have struggled to get into the team.

‘Pompey then hit a purple patch so there is the thought I might have experienced better times but all I can say is I really enjoyed playing for the club.

‘I am pleased it happened because looking back on my career I have not got any regrets.

‘I met my wife after leaving Pompey and we have had two children since and still live in London – it is fair to say football has been brilliant to me.’

A decade later and a return to Pompey so nearly materialised for Derry when Michael Appleton expressed an interest in bringing the former skipper, then 34, back to Fratton Park in the summer of 2012.

‘It was very close to taking place,’ revealed Derry.

‘It was a move I was pretty eager to fulfil. I would have loved to have been a player-coach there under Michael Appleton.

‘But as sometimes is the case it just didn’t get over the line, which coincided with me getting my place back in the QPR team.’

Derry then played in the top flight of English football under Redknapp before moving into a career in management himself at Notts County, at the age of 35.

Having guided them to League One safety against the odds in the 2013-14 season, Derry was relieved of his duties in March last season – a decision that backfired on the struggling Magpies who suffered relegation to League Two.

Now working in the media with talkSPORT radio, the Fratton favourite is keen to make a return to football management.

SHAUN DERRY ON...

...THE DEATH OF AARON FLAHAVAN

It was a moment in my life I will never forget.

It was incredible circumstances that culminated in the death of such a fantastic young man.

He was a friend of mine and I was privileged later on in my career to play with his brother Darryl at Crystal Palace.

That brought back some memories of Aaron which will forever live with me.

I am quite sentimental in many ways and that memory is still raw – he was a friend of mine, a brother and a son who tragically lost his life.

I was privileged to even know him for a short space of time.

Aaron was a remarkable guy, he really was.v

...A RETURN TO MANAGEMENT

Having spent 17 months in charge at Notts County I have experienced more than I could have imagined.

There were highs, lows and all of the other variables football management throws at you all in a short space of time.

I really enjoyed it and am eager for it to happen again – that’s definitely for sure.

...POMPEY PALS

I would have to say the best thing about my time down at Pompey were all of the friends I made.

Footballers are very much like ships in the night but even to this day I still speak to big Crouchie, Darren Moore, Linvoy Primus and Justin Edinburgh.

I am big friends with all of them still.